Sunday, July 19, 2009

The Black Death

Friday we mowed the grass. When we got around to the backyard, we noticed this.

It had been a nest of baby wrens—probably getting pretty close to fledging.

And so “nature takes its course.”

But we do like our snakes (and this is the first time we’ve seen a black snake in our backyard, and not just the ubiquitous garter snakes), and we understand we’re not in a position to pass “judgment.”

Yet, as the beings who hung the wren box in the tree in the first place, we’re a little bummed out. We can’t help but empathize with the grief, or the confusion, or the terror, or whatever emotions the wren parents must have experienced when all their hard work, when the entire focus of their lives, was abruptly gobbled down by what to them can only be a terrifying monster. Surely the senses of terror, of confusion, of grief, must be common to many vertebrates, particularly those which engage in parental care of offspring.

And it seems as if a hush has suddenly fallen over the neighborhood in these mornings. The wrens’ bubbling singing is mostly gone (I wonder if one or both parents might have been trapped in the box when the snake entered—if they are still around, they are remarkably quiet).

In fact, the springtime songs of most birds are nearly all gone; what’s left are the routine cheeps of sparrows, finches, and cardinals; occasional miews of the catbird; and the railing cries of blue jays as they pass through. And there is the twittering gibberish of hummingbirds as they orbit and land and blast away from their sugarwater.

Cicadas buzz in the trees, a sure sign that we’ve reached the “dog days” of summer; and at nights the yard throbs with the rasping of katydids and all their relatives.

But in the daytime, the yard hasn’t been this quiet since late winter, and just as the first silent snowfall gives proof to winter’s arrival, the sudden cessation of wren song makes it feel like a season has changed entirely.

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